Bissinger describes his son as borderline mentally retarded with an IQ of 70 and the comprehension of a 9-year-old. He recalls his owns thoughts in the hospital delivery room when he saw the doctor holding his 1-pound, 11-ounce son as the infant struggled to breathe.
“I knew that if he survived, he would not remotely be the son I imagined. Which is a nicer way saying he would not remotely be the son I wanted,” he wrote.
He admits his guilt and shame for thinking that and also for believing he and his son had been robbed by the circumstances of Zach’s birth.
“I am not proud to feel or say this,” Bissinger wrote in the first chapter. “But I think these things, not all of the time, but too many times, which only increases the cycle of my shame. This is my child. How can I look at him this way? Because I do. Because I think we all do when confronted with difference, reality vs. expectation, never at peace or even truce.”
Zach is a twin. His brother, Gerry, was born three minutes before him and did not suffer oxygen deprivation. Gerry attended public schools, has a master’s degree and is working on a doctoral degree.
Zach spent the first seven months of his life in intensive care. He attended schools for brain-injured students. He bags groceries in a store near his home and also works in the mail delivery department of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is independent and is now learning how to cook because he wants to live in a group home with friends. He splits his time living with his parents, who are divorced and live about a half-hour drive apart in Philadelphia. He loves food and roller coasters.
Bissinger said Zach also is blessed with rare talents: “an astonishing memory, a dazzling knack for navigation, and a reflexive honesty which can make him both socially awkward and surprisingly wise.”